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Marg Hartley with her teenage daughters

That would certainly make headlines, wouldn’t it? I wonder the impact such an initiative would have.

On the weekend I was chatting with my friend Margie Hartley and she shared some insights into why there are not more women in senior roles in Australia. Marg facilitates women’s resilience programs and is a coach to executives. She wrote a blog recently about the disappearing pipeline for senior female executives.

As we were chatting I offered that making childcare – including qualified in-home childcare – tax deductible could be an advantage to keeping more women in the workforce. This idea was recently tabled at the Tax Forum by a group called Chief Executive Women, representing nearly 200 business leaders, including highflyers such as Gillian Broadbent, Ita Buttrose, and Janet Holmes a Court.

Of course, this does not take into account those women not attracted to the corporate ladder, but still requiring greater flexibility in childcare, for example nurses working shifts, where the usual 7am opening and 6pm close of a long daycare is no help.  Actually, nor is it much support to the corporate working- woman either, given the hours often ‘expected’ in that world (which is another blog in itself).

Another submission made to the Tax Forum by the National Foundation for Women, argues that childcare tax breaks are not the solution, as tax deductibility versus the current childcare rebate would leave some families weekly out of pocket on their childcare fees. Put simply, nurses do not have access to the tax breaks that higher earners in the corporate world can experience.

My friend Marg’s response upped the ante: “What if Australia had free, ie: publically-funded childcare? We have public primary and secondary schools – our economy is changing and public policy needs to change with it.” It’s an interesting idea: public preschools that feed into our publicly-funded primary system.

However this is not a simple issue for under school age children. Every working mother I know talks about the horror of handling school holidays and trying to find appropriate arrangements.   Plus coming back to the notion of working hours, services that run outside of school hours are also vital.

Speaking with another woman the other night at the Global Banking Alliance for Women summit – hosted by Gail Kelly – with Penny Wong presenting the 40% female representation on government boards initiative. Much of the conversation around our table at the event was about the ‘juggling’ game that parents play. One woman lamented “I work 4 days a week, I have two pre school children and childcare costs me $40k per year…in POST TAX DOLLARS – I have to earn $70k just to pay for childcare… you have really got to love what you do at work to make it worth working at all.”

That is the point!

Ultimately, as business leaders, we all need to be willing to embrace change and lead by example. Change the notion of what is an appropriate working week. Change leadership expectations and, as Margie writes in her blog: “have leaders demonstrate flexibility that is really flexibility. Not a five-day week squeezed into four days or the ability to work 14 hours a day through technology.”

Let me hear your thoughts on this one…




Reader Interactions


  1. Thank you Margie and Naomi for bringing this important issue to light.
    I grew up in Hong Kong with an incredible support structure, my parents both had their own businesses and managed to bring up two healthy and happy children into this world. I never thought that have a child would stop me from returning to work.
    Now that I live in Australia, it is of no surprise to me that women, one of our greatest economic assets, leave the workforce never to return from their child rearing years. I’m not sure when the average age of women giving birth but in my case I was 29 years old when I gave birth to my first child. I was not senior executive earning the income I needed to earn to afford a nanny at the going rate of $25-$30 an hour to make it economically viable for us to have a nanny. So I decided to use the child care option. My decision to return to work was that it was part of my identity, my personal development and I loved my job to the point that I was prepared to take a pay cut to work part time just to get back into it. I was also fortunate enough to have an incredibly supportive husband, this issue doesn’t impact just women, it impacts our families, our society and our economy.
    Given the economic data on the value and contribution women make to the economy, we have to ask ourselves, why does it have to be this way? We represent 50% of the population, let’s get this conversation on child care in Australia going!

  2. We could talk forever about the topic but you’re right….a lot of attitudes, work practices and support fundamentally have to change.

    My husband is very supportive of my career and does his share of childcare himself but just struggles with the houseworkJ

    I wonder what corporation you are referring to in your article. If it is my employer we have a way to go. We still have some old mentality even though we have come a long way to support diversity practically. What we struggle to find is an example of a return to work executive mum who’s career improved upon her return. We have an action to actually survey the workforce to find out. The point is trying to find out if we are paying lip service to the diversity angle or really making it work. I returned to a job – not a role. Given tasks that did not fit my skills and little or no support. My restricted hours (8-4.30 and 4 days a week) were seen as the reason I was not provided opportunities despite having greater experience

    I really do agree that although we have a change to undertake to be effective leaders of diverse teams – we need the change to happen within ourselves. It took 5 months since my return to the workforce as a mum to finally get a real job – where I am valued and was happily allowed to work 4 days, remotely as long as I could manage the workload. Negotiated a payrise with it! My boss talks about our kids and seems to relish the personal side of his role.

    I don’t like spending so much time away from my son but I do need to earn money and if I’m going to worm I’m not going to spend my time unhappily just bringing home the bacon. Life is too short and too damn good.

    Free childcare… amazing. I have to consider whether I can have a 2nd child from a purely financial front due to the cost of childcare. Just horrendous. The rebate is the ONLY benefit I can claim from the Govt as my earnings push me out of any tax relief. Amazing that so many talented women and men are forced to stay at home as they cannot afford the support otherwise.

    My friend cannot rely on the long day care hours – 7.30am – 6pm as she works an hour from home and runs a division of a large corporation so cannot guarantee the traffic or last minute issues won’t have her knocking on the door of a closed child care centre. So she has hired a nanny for the small sum of $70k p.a. which is taken from her net salary! She is no millionaire but has no choice if she wants a house.

    Ahhhhhh…..anyway things are looking up…gradually.


  3. Great work…

    It really hits a cord with my family…young kids, a wife who would love to work again but it just doesn’t stack up either financially or fitting in with my heavy workload. I’m certainly glad that all these issues are getting more attention…..


  4. Love it when you address and debate these social issues – great blog!

  5. Thanks Margie and Naomi for some thought provoking solutions to this endemic problem. I’m in the thick of it right now having just had my second child. I run a fast-growing business and want to work, but with our childcare bill now at over $70,000 a year, (our eldest is in daycare and our bub has a nanny) it makes every day that little bit harder.

    Addressing childcare issues in this country is an absolute must if we are to get to a point where women are valued equally in corporate Australia. It’s not even a moral issue anymore – it’s plain simple economics that if women participate as much or as little as they choose to, we’ll all benefit.

    Thanks for shining a light and please continue to do so!

  6. Thanks for another great post Naomi I am so pleased that this conversation has started. It is the way we get things done, when people are brave enough to take the first step and be persistent. I look forward to following the progress and hope that this discussion gains momentum. Let’s be creative and innovative and see where it could take us!

    I also look forward to your follow up blog post addressing the following paragraph:

    “Of course, this does not take into account those women not attracted to the corporate ladder, but still requiring greater flexibility in childcare, for example nurses working shifts, where the usual 7am opening and 6pm close of a long daycare is no help. Actually, nor is it much support to the corporate working- woman either, given the hours often ‘expected’ in that world (which is another blog in itself).”

    This is so true! I am passionate about changing the culture of Australian workplaces and their notion of stated versus ‘expected’ working hours. Naomi – I look forward to your perspective on this!

  7. Thank you so much for this article, I can not tell you what a never it hit in me!

    I am today about to go for a interview for a senior management role, a great opportunity but I am struggling with the fact that I have a young family and husband and how will I juggle wanting to give it my all and still be there for my family??

    I have been slowly growing my own conveyancing business from home which has been wonderful and has allowed me to be with my daughter. I am grateful that I have a profession that allows me this freedom, but coming from a generation of “career minded” women I want to be successful and be an inspiration for my daughter.

    There is however always a pay off isn’t there??? Not being there for her, how will I go with school drop offs and pick ups….Childcare is hard to get into and my current centre is expensive and does not offer extended hours, currently only 8 – 4.30pm. Endless questions!

    She is approaching Kindy age which will save $$$ – $180 a term (10) weeks in comparison to $75 a day. Very alluring, but the hours are 9 – 3.

    So ladies how do we do it all, and juggle the minefield of it all??

    Do we just put it off till the kids are older and by this time the younger girls have surpassed us and taken our roles. I have this conversation with my girlfriends on a weekly basis. Not one of us is yet to find the answer.

    There is not unfortunately the incentive for women to get back into the workforce and in higher roles. These roles demand your full attention and it is still looked down on to put your kids first.

    Employers say they are flexible but as I’m about to find out today I’m going to have to choose, and can you afford the time and $$$ to have another child???

  8. Yes we definitely need childcare reforms – as a Certified Practising Accountant I’m frustrated that childcare isn’t tax deductible. But what must recognise is that politicians won’t act until their constituents demand change. Which is why I’ve joined forces with other concerned Australians to launch Make Care Fair – a petition demanding change and childcare reforms.

    Please Naomi can you encourage your readers to voice their concerns on this important issue via the petition at – our goal is to collect 20,000 signatures and hand deliver them to Kate Ellis in Canberra before the end of the year. Please everyone – your voice counts – please sign the petition and demand some change.

  9. Dear Naomi,

    I still think is possible, I lived in Europe for 10 yrs, in France, Belgium, UK and Spain, in all of them childcare is FREE, my 1 yr old was attending a 100% free creche, with meals included ! yes starter, main and dessert !, so in Australia there should be too. However, as we don’t have yet, I have an au pair, my wonderful solution, and since then, I created Au pair Australia and have been working for Australian families since 2008. Maybe this will help a little


  10. What a good news it is! Being a single and working mom is never easy, so having a free childcare would be a very big help. Thanks!

  11. Hi, I am a day care worker at Slacks Creek. I study every weekend for a period of four years to be able to look after your children . I have a certificate 111 in children’ s services and need a Diploma now to continue to work with the younger children. The study is ridiculous, I work full time and have two children, one disabled I earn a amount of $19.72 an hour, less than a checkout person who does not sit down all weekend every weekend to study. I run a house, work full time and have children and get a low wage. I look after some children from non working families, who are more than happy to leave them there for a period of 6.30 to 6.30 and give us orders on what we should do for their children, while they do nothing. Some of our families are hard working parents and this we understand and we work very closely with all our children. We are not appreciated, underpaid and I would dearly love to raise my own children thankyou not every one else’s. If childcare was free, what are we? even less than what we are now, cheap disregarded dumping grounds for non working, non studying parents, who give nothing and expect others to raise their children while they have “ME TIME” I WOULD LOVE SOME ME TIME. But I am forced to go to work by the government. While I love these children dearly, as I spend at least 7.5 hours a day with these poor children five days a week, why should day care be available to some people free? and are you proposing we, who have to study and study work for nothing. Day care should only be for those parents who are working or proven to be studying, it is a necessity for these parents not for non working non studying parents who line up early every day to dump their poor children while they are heavily pregnant with another and want time to themselves.

  12. This is a very interesting topic that needs to be delved upon deeper so better solutions can come up. Making childcare tax deductible is a really good idea and would surely benefit many families. A lot of mothers nowadays are working to help earn more money for raising their children while a the same time, still taking care of their children. It’s a difficult situation to be in especially for single mothers. But with this idea, parents won’t have to try working long hours just to compensate all the expenses for raising children among other things.

  13. The blog has provided some very realistic insights in to problems faced by working women. The childcare scenario in Australia needs a bit restructuring due to conditions our changing economy is bringing in. Aspiring ladies have to compromise on their careers in order to give responsible time to their pre-school going children. The problem is specially faced by single mothers. Making childcare tax-deductible or having publicly–funded childcare for preschool education in Australia is a viable solution, indeed. The discussion is thought-provoking and very relevant. Thanks for sharing this, Margie and Naomi!


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